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Protected Status Brings Doubts For Haitians In U.S.


More than 5,000 Haitians living illegally in the U.S. have now applied for what's called temporary protected statue or TPS. The Obama administration extended that status to Haitians after the earthquake. It allows them to work here for at least a year and a half and to send money to their families in Haiti. An estimated 200,000 Haitians are eligible - some are suspicious, others are elated. From member station WNYC, Marianne McCune reports.

RUTH: Yeah, my name is Ruth.

MARIANNE McCUNE: Ruth is filling out her TPS application at the Brooklyn offices of the Legal Aid Society.

RUTH: It's very important for me to get this to be able to work and contribute in the community. So thank you.

MCCUNE: A tear rolls down Ruth's cheek. She catches her breath, and they get back to work.

Unidentified Woman #1: So, this is a check-off list.

Ms. RUTH: Yeah.

MCCUNE: Legal aid advised Ruth to play it safe and not give NPR her last name. She's been in the U.S. illegally for a decade. She lives alone with her teenage son, who's also here illegally, and neither has a job or any right to help from the federal government. So the announcement that the United States might give them legal working papers seemed almost too good to be true.

Mr. RUTHERFORD: I was ecstatic.

MCCUNE: Rutherford is Ruth's 17 year old son and this could mean he can earn the money to go to college.

Mr. RUTHERFORD: And I had a big grin in my face, that was it.

MCCUNE: Not every Haitian is ecstatic about the opportunity. Jasline Mayas(ph) is an immigrant liaison on with New York State. And she says as soon as temporary protected status for Haitians was announced, they started calling her office, afraid.

Ms. JASLINE MAYAS (Immigrant Liaison, New York State): They are listening to rumors. If you do apply, your information is going to be in a database. After 18 months, they can come and deport you.

MCCUNE: Mayas is herself, Haitian, and she's been trying to dispel the myths. Yes, TPS lasts only 18 months, but it's often renewed multiple times. If and when TPS is taken away, it's unlikely authorities will start arresting participants. Their focus is on deporting immigrants convicted of crimes. Mayas says people are beginning to understand that TPS is no government con. Now she wants to make sure they don't get conned by fraudulent consultants.

Ms. MAYAS: Since, they heard that TPS, my God, signs goes up - everybody is doing immigration. People who have nothing to do with the issue, and they just like multiplying like mushrooms.

MCCUNE: The government charges $470 to submit an application, but she says some consultants are asking for 2000.

Ms. MAYAS: This is highway robbery.

MCCUNE: New York's attorney general says he's ready to prosecute anyone who doesn't have the right to charge for immigration services. Meanwhile, attorneys are working Pro bono in clinics across the city. As Haitians arrive at the legal aid society, Jojo Annobil has its staff check first to see if they should apply. Any felony convictions and certain misdemeanors make them ineligible.

Mr. JOJO ANNOBIL: If you jump a turnstyle, all right, that's a misdemeanor. It's called a crime involved in moral turpitude. If you have only one, you'll be able to get an exception and you can apply. But you have two, then you're out of luck because it will be two misdemeanors.

MCCUNE: Even for people who are definitely eligible, the application is complicated.

Ms. HOCRUSINA BARET(ph): In lot of instances they are unable to get certain documentation in order to fulfill the requirements for the forms.

MCCUNE: Paralegal Hocrusina Baret is helping Ruth get her papers together. Ruth has no evidence of her son's birth in Haiti.

Ms. RUTH: We don't know where the passport is, the birth certificate and...

MCCUNE: Without those documents she'll have to get affidavits from family members. And if she wants to get a waiver from the $470 application fee, she'll need an affidavit from the pastor, who lets them live for free above his church.

Ms. BARET: And then you save 470.

Ms. RUTH: Hmm, Yeah.

MCCUNE: Ruth sent in her application this week. She's still working on the documentation for her son.

For NPR News, I'm Marianne McCune in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Marianne McCune
Marianne McCune is a reporter and producer for Embedded: Buffalo Extreme who has more than two decades of experience making award-winning audio stories. She has produced narrative podcast series for New York Magazine (Cover Story), helped start, produce and edit long-form narrative shows for NPR and public radio affiliates (Rough Translation; United States of Anxiety, Season Four), reported locally and internationally (NPR News, NPR's Planet Money and WNYC News) and produced groundbreaking narrative audio tours (SF MOMA, Detour). She is also the founder of Radio Rookies, a narrative youth radio series, that is still thriving at WNYC.
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